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Fed grant backs Delaware biomed entrepreneurship course

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Delaware Technology Park at STAR campus lab entrepreneurship

I-Red University, a new joint venture by the University of Delaware, DESCA and InsiteHub, will support biomedical entrepreneurs in finding a market for their innovations. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEWARK – A new program backed by federal funding will assist early-stage innovators and startups in identifying the most viable applications for their inventions as early as possible.

The program, known as I-Red University and supported by a $3.2 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant awarded through the IDeA Program, a regional entrepreneurship development program for states that traditionally have received low levels of NIH funding for biomedical research.

I-Red will be a collaboration between the University of Delaware, private curriculum company InsiteHub and the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance, an industry association.

Dora Cheatham, executive director of DESCA, credited the idea for the program to Julius Korley, associate vice president for UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) and a member of the alliance’s board. They then brought in Lou Dinetta from the Delaware Small Business Development Center, who connected the partners with John Royer, CEO of the Newark-based InsiteHub.

According to the National Science Board’s 2018 Science & Engineering Indicators, university invention disclosures totaled 22,507 in 2015 – an increase of more than 60% over 2003 – and patent applications almost doubled over the same period. Yet many of those innovations are left on the research lab floor because entrepreneurs can’t identify a cost-effective route to market or seed funding that could provide the necessary development runway.

“There are so many patent applications and a lot of them just don’t get to commercialization because they don’t have the resources, they don’t have access to mentors, or they don’t have access to the basic business knowledge that you need. So, we’re trying to get to them at the earliest possible stage to provide them with those resources and access,” Cheatham explained.

In the eight-level technology readiness scale, Cheatham said I-Red may begin connecting with innovators at levels two or three so that they don’t progress to higher levels with greater time and funding commitments only to learn that a targeted use wasn’t the best one.

On Aug. 21, the I-Red program received the first tranche of about $980,000 in funding and funding authorization for two more years, totaling up to $3.2 million. The funding will allow DESCA members and UD to help develop an entrepreneurship curriculum that will be turned into an online course by InsiteHub.

According to UD, the program will have two tracks: an educational track to develop necessary skills to become a better entrepreneur and an intensive coaching track where participants will receive up to $50,000 in funding to attempt to execute on their ideas, reach specific deliverables and stand up a company.

Participants will also learn how to secure non-dilutive funding, in part by completing a “killer experiment” to expose potential weaknesses in a technology or product, therefore helping entrepreneurs decide whether it has market value.

Organizers anticipate identifying potential I-Red participants from Delaware universities, as well as from patent applications and Small Business Innovation Research grant applicants, Cheatham said. Participation won’t be limited to Delaware though, as I-Red will initially be open to the four other Northeast IDeA states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Eventually, the I-Red curriculum will be open to any entrepreneur, Cheatham said.

While the program is still in its infancy, Cheatham said that success with its initial biomedical focus could spur the partners to pursue future federal funding that would open I-Red University to other industries and technologies as well.

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